“Mind over matter” is an abstract phrase that most people have said or heard at some point in their lives. It suggests the ability to overcome bodily forces strictly through the power of the mind. It may sound like a mystical concept to some, but what many people don’t realize is how much control their mind actually has over their body. You can quite literally think your way into high blood pressure or even suppress your own immune system, making yourself more susceptible to illness.
Say you have an extremely important exam coming up and you are stressing yourself out hard. During your various nail-bitingly-long study sessions, anxiety might start to affect your mind: “I have no idea what I’m reading! I’m so going to fail this important test!” Your thoughts are spiraling, focused on that specific stressor. In response, your mind tells your body: initiate stress mode. Stress hormones begin pouring out of your adrenal gland to help you “fight” off this stressor. Each time you suffer from this acute stress, you’re activating and reactivating your bodily systems in ways they don’t normally operate. What your body doesn’t realize is that your mind is tricking it into believing that you are under physical threat (which, evolutionarily speaking, stress intends to do), and your body is equipping you for that.
But your exam is not going to physically harm you and you will not have to prepare yourself to engage in physical combat at the time of your test. Usually in situations like this where you’re not in any real danger, the amount of repeated stress you put on your body can become very harmful to the immune, digestive, and even reproductive systems. In other words, you can think yourself sick.
On the bright side, your mind can also very positively influence your body! Here are a few ways you can ease your mind and overcome stress and stress-induced sickness:
Meditation involves getting to a peaceful state of mind, and therefore a prolonged state of body relaxation. There are many methods of meditation that could prove helpful in reducing stress and generating an overall sense of well being, but they all center on the idea of focused breathing and the elimination of harmful thoughts. Yoga is a great example of common meditation. Another way to ease yourself into this technique is by using guided meditation, which utilizes guides (recorded or in-person) to help your mind take you on a mental journey, away from your worries. With practice, you can do this on your own.
Mindfulness is a technique similar to meditation that allows you to remain in the present moment, letting your worries melt away. It can be achieved by casually observing (not analyzing) your sensations, thoughts, feelings, and mental images, while sustaining steady breaths. By doing this, you are both slowing down your heart rate and reducing the over-thinking that often leads to stress.
- Positive Self-Talk
Optimism is a key trait in helping people buffer against the adverse effects of stress. It is linked to positive thinking, which allows you to maintain a healthy outlook on life. By practicing positive self-talk, you can train your mind to improve its disposition. Start by examining your daily thoughts; perhaps even write down thoughts you find significant. You’ll realize how you frame things when you focus on your self-talk. It takes a lot of practice, but if you surround yourself with positive people, keep yourself physically healthy, and make an effort to find humor in your everyday life, you will find that positive thinking will just become your way of thinking.
Stress? Who needs it? Definitely not you. You have power over how stress affects you. Remember: when you matter your mind, you can achieve mind over matter.
By Melissa Espinal